The latest open enrollment period to sign up for insurance from the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare) kicked off on Sunday, one that federal officials are anticipating to be their toughest season to date.
Around 10.5 million Americans are eligible for coverage but have resisted signing up since the law rolled out five years ago. The majority of those that remain uninsured are primarily concerned about rising premium and deductible costs. To combat these concerns, officials are emphasizing the available subsidies and the tax penalties that the remaining uninsured people will face. Other changes have been made to make signup easier including tweaks to the HealthCare.gov website, a call center and in person assistance.
Despite these efforts to wrangle more enrollees, only 40,000 people signed up during the first six hours the website was open. One reason for the muted enrollment could be that most people don’t know how to sign up for healthcare. A new Vox study found that the top Obamacare-related Google searches for 2015 are “what is Obamacare?” “How to apply for Obamacare,” and “How much is Obamacare?”
Below is a guide for those who want to enroll in Obamacare, but just don’t know how to.
Am I eligible?
In order to be eligible for Obamacare, you must live in the U.S., must be a U.S. citizen or a national and you cannot be in jail.
Do I have to signup?
You do not need to purchase coverage if you already have Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the veteran’s health program, ACA-compliant private insurance, or are one of the nearly 48 percent of Americans who receives coverage through their employer.
If you aren’t already covered and you choose not to purchase health insurance, you will be required to pay a fee called the individual shared responsibility payment. In 2016, the fee is calculated either as 2.5 percent of household income or per person ($695 per adult, $347.50 per child under 18). You’ll be required to pay whichever is higher.
There are several exemptions that allow some people to not have health insurance and dodge the fee, such as your income is below the federal income tax filing threshold, you are an immigrant who is in the country illegally or the cheapest plan costs more than 8 percent of your income.
When can I sign up?
Open enrollment for 2016 opened on Nov. 1, 2015 and is available through Jan. 31, 2016. If you sign up for coverage in the first half of the month, your insurance will begin on the 1st of the following month after your premium is paid. As long as you enroll by the Jan. 31 deadline, you won’t have to pay the penalty.
What information is needed to enroll?
Basic personal information is required for signup, such as household income, a social security number, family size and health insurance the applicant might already have.
The Marketplace also provides a checklist for any documents that need to be gathered in order to signup.
How do I sign up?
The easiest way to signup for health insurance is to fill out the application online at HealthCare.gov. Once you’re on the website, you’ll be able to select the state that you live in from a drop down menu and you’ll automatically be taken to the exchange that serves residents of your state.
From there, you’ll need to select a plan and fill out the application forms. The forms can either be submitted online, by mail, by phone (at 1-800-318-2596 or by text telephone at 1-855-889-4325) or with an in person assister.
If I already have coverage do I need to re-enroll?
Although you’ll likely be automatically re-enrolled for 2016, there are a few cases in which you might not be: your plan may no longer be offered or your insurance company isn’t offering plans through the Marketplace any longer.
The site recommends that even if you plan on keeping your current insurance, you should update your expected income and household information for 2016. It’s the only way you can be sure that you’re receiving the right premium tax credit and other savings for the year. If you don’t update your information, you could end up paying a higher premium than necessary or you might be receiving more advance payments of the premium tax credit than you actually qualify for.
It also can’t hurt to browse other plans, as there might be a new option that’s less expensive or better suits your needs.
How do I know what plan to choose?
The majority of consumers are solely focused on monthly premiums when choosing a plan, but there are other costs that can be just as important. These include the deductible and cost sharing or copays for medical services. Other factors to consider when choosing a plan are whether your primary doctors, hospitals and other providers are covered, how your prescription drugs are covered and whether the plan is HSA-eligible.
State and federal health officials are also working on creating new Web-based tools that will help consumers choose the most economical plan. Consumers will be able to compare various health plans, check physician networks and estimate their overall healthcare expenses using the new tools.
What if I still need help?
The HealthCare.gov help line can be reached at 1-800-318-2596 and operators are available 24/7 to answer questions about anything ranging from the application process to eligibility requirements. Online help can also be received here.